Monday, 26 September 2016

I want to do great things

I'm not a promoter. Not a musician. Not an events organiser or full-time entertainer and yet.... I had an idea that what our village really needed was to have a live band and indie disco evening.
Oh yeah, PowerPoint has a Reading Festival template!
I wanted to do this because 18 months ago I'd been at a friend's party where we danced until 3am to a playlist of '90s music and sank drinks like we were at the Hacienda, rather than in someone's tastefully decorated home. People I'd only spoken to on the school playground or at the local pub became teenagers once again, and friendships were strengthened as we realised that we loved the same music. It felt like we all shared a little of the spirit that we allow to shine so freely when we're young and unencumbered by mortgages and the gradual build up of life's worries.
I also wanted to do it because since taking up stand-up I'd seen some great live performances from local musicians and felt that other people ought to see how talented these bands are. The comedy night I put on was well received so how hard could it be to put on a couple of bands?
Harder than I thought. During the process of organising the event I discovered that there was an awful lot I didn't know. Like what a 'DI box' or a 'stage monitor' is, or is for. I didn't know how to pronounce 'cajon' (it's "cah-hon" - a type of box drum) and I didn't know how to connect a guitar amp to a mixer. I didn't know that you needed a sound guy to make all this work well enough that the band won't sound like they're playing underwater in a dustbin. Fortunately for me (and for everybody else), the DJ and another villager who works in radio were experts, and kind enough to make up for my considerable lack of knowledge.
Awesome sound quality nothing to do with me...
The event itself was incredible. We danced like we didn't have any responsibilities beyond perfecting our Happy Mondays moves or being able to recite all the words to "Get Your Rocks Off". We tried to drink the bar dry but one thing that I *do know* is how to make sure a bar is well stocked. We tried to eat enough food to avoid getting drunk - only some of us were successful on that front. The next morning my feet were half a size bigger, the recycling bin had over 200 bottles and cans in it and I heard how someone had stopped on the way home to "have a go on the swings" for old times' sake. Someone had also been sick in their bathroom but I'm not supposed to tell you that....
That's not even the half of it......
The evening was a fundraiser for Smart Works Reading so there wasn't any financial reward in it for me, but I did get something else extremely valuable: a reminder that sometimes we don't need to wait until we think we're 100% there to go after the things that we want to achieve. By showing my enthusiasm, people became interested. By being clear on the outcome, others wanted to take part. By being honest about the stuff I didn't know, others offered to help.
This process has inspired me to go after the things that I really want to achieve - chief among which is to ramp up the number of speaking engagements that I do. So that's why I'm off to see the Berkshire WI speaker selection committee this week to see if I can't get myself a little tour underway.  I want to do great things, how about you?

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Holidays: An Education

I don't know about you but I am chomping at the bit to get back to work properly.  I'm afraid that six weeks of squeezing work in around the holidays have led to my writing abilities diminishing beyond recognition, and I'm bored of the children being bored.  This is not one-sided either - they're desperate to be back amongst friends and the certainty of routine.

Always, always cold

There's also the small matter of whether the break has erased the efforts of the teachers over the past term.  If today's return to rugby was anything to go by (where children forgot how to catch balls and parents forgot that standing on a pitch is always, always going to be cold) then that may well be true.  Unless you frame the learning in a different way.  Which is what I'm going to try to do, so here's....:

How to keep your kids educated during the holidays:

Maths (or numeracy, if you want to be PC about it).

At primary school, depending on where you children are at in the curriculum, they could be covering anything from basic addition to multiplying fractions.  Leave this stuff to the teachers (you'll be getting homework on it anyway), instead demonstrate to them the wonder of maths by doing the following:

1. Ask them what theme park they would like to go to
2. Ask them to calculate how many boxes of cereal you will need to buy in order for the children to get in for free.  Make sure they add on the cost of all the extra stuff you ended up buying from the supermarket because "you were in there anyway".
3. Take them to the theme park
4. Ask them to calculate how much it costs per minute, per ride (answer: circa £20 unless you subscribe to the divisive wealth indicator that is a Fast Track pass).
5. Watch their little faces light up in amazement when you explain to them that even though you bought cereal packets instead of tickets, you still managed to spend £150 on one day out.

English (or literacy.  Or phonics.  Or SPaG.  I don't know what the right thing is anymore).

Poo pants.  There for all to see..
With less focus on writing and honing formal sentence structures, children get far more time to exercise their conversational skills - whether you want to talk to them all day or not.  This is great for developing their confidence in communication although you may find yourself having to explain to them that declaring "Dinner is Served" in a loud voice as they exit the toilet is not an 'appropriate' thing to say.

You may also want to plan any leisurely strolls that you want to take around your neighbourhood with care.  I recommend avoiding bus stops, unless you want to find yourself having to explain "all the swears".

If you're interested in the extent of your children's vocabulary, you could also while away some time by playing Hangman, as we did in a restaurant.  How smug we felt entertaining our children without devices.  How short-lived this was when the waiter noticed the words 'poo pants' written on the pad.

PE (joyously this is still PE!)

The one thing that I *love* about the holidays is that the children get a hell of a lot more outdoor exercise than during an average week at school.  The only challenge is that more often than not this exercise needs to be undertaken as a family.  Which means negotiation, bribery, arguments, fighting and occasional crying.  What begins as a simple bike ride or "just a walk" will morph into an hour of misery but like with all tough work outs, once you've busted through that wall you will find yourselves enjoying a tremendous sense of achievement (and ideally a pint).  If you want to avoid the misery, the solution is to go with friends - there is something about the children being around other kids that seems to silence the whining button in a way that offering encouragement / threatening a tech ban / shovelling Haribos into their hands will never do.

If you want to ride this route without whining - just add friends :)


As neither of us play an instrument, our ability to influence our children's musical tastes begins and ends with playing what we like.  We keep BBC 6 Music on the radio and if we can be arsed to connect up the iPod, they'll hear mostly indie rock, dance and (heavily edited) hip-hop.  

All this counts for nothing however as we have discovered to our great dismay.  What the children have decided is all they want to listen to is Heart.  Which means that the soundtrack to your holiday will be Shy Guy by Diana King which they seem to play on the hour, every hour.  I think Diana puts it best when she says: "Oh lord have mercy, mercy, mercy......"

Your children may also decide to search the iTunes with their friends for Cake by the Ocean by DNCE.  Did you know that it's got a version including the word "f*cking"?  Neither did I.  But now I do.  And so do you.

Sex Education

Whether on holiday or not, we all run the risk of being caught 'in flagrante' (unless you're camping, I mean seriously are you really going to attempt it when you're separated by a 'wall' that is the thickness of a high-vis vest?) but on returning to our favoured holiday destination this year to discover one of the owners had had a beautiful baby just 7 weeks earlier, our son was most interested to know precisely why he was not going to get a little brother.  Couldn't we just "wish for one"?


Whatever the lessons contain at school did not quite prepare the children for the moment when on holiday I walked down to the swimming pool which contained a large group of men, women and children of various ages, yet when I got in to the pool the men and teenage boys had mysteriously all disappeared.  I thought for a moment that perhaps I had mistakenly put my costume on back to front (now that would be horrible) but it turned out that we were holidaying at the same place as a family of Orthodox Jews.  So there's me and my girl in our speedo cossies and the ladies in their swimming dresses.  We stared a bit, smiled a bit, chatted a bit about the temperature of the pool and the weather (we were in Devon, it's The Law) and carried on enjoying our respective swims.  

Despite the differences we may have had, I learned that the way you deal with awkward questions is universal.  My husband overheard one of the dads telling his son that he had to get out of the pool "because you just have to".

This holiday has been one of revelations, of family time, of raised voices, big hugs, memorable moments, boredom, excitement, beautiful days and torrential rain, late nights and early mornings (why does our boy not understand what a lie-in is!) but above all, it has been an education.  I think we're all ready to go back to school.